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John A. Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada who served from 1867–1873 and 1878–1891.
See the fact file below for more information on John A. Macdonald or alternatively, you can download our 23-page John A. Macdonald worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Career
- John Alexander Macdonald was born on January 10 or 11, 1815, in Glasgow, Scotland, to Hugh Macdonald and Helen Shaw. They later moved to Canada when he was five years old.
- He got his basic education at the Midland District Grammar School, and at a private school in Kingston, where he excelled in rhetoric, Latin, Greek, grammar, arithmetic, and geography.
- He had shown great potential at age 15 as an apprentice in a law firm (articling) and soon managed a branch legal office in Napanee, Ontario by 17.
- At 19, Macdonald opened his own office in Kingston, before being called to the Law Society of Upper Canada two years later.
- In December 1837, as a militia private, he took part in the attack on the rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern. The following year, he attracted attention after defending accused rebels, including Nils von Schoultz, leader of an attack on Prescott.
- After becoming a lawyer, he practiced in the field of commerce, also venturing into business such as real estate beginning in the 1840s, a warehouse firm for 25 years, and insurance in 1887.
Road to Political Career
- Beginning in 1843, Macdonald entered politics, serving as alderman in Kingston for three years. He was then elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada to represent Kingston when he was 29.
- As a supporter of Conservative politics, he advocated Great Britain’s prerogative and state support of denominational education. In later years, he was involved in the creation of a new political alliance, the Liberal-Conservative Party.
- He opposed the abolition of primogeniture – the eldest son would inherit everything if the property owner died without leaving a will.
- In 1847, Macdonald served in his first Cabinet post as receiver-general in the administration of W.H. Draper.
- Macdonald then assumed the post of attorney general of Upper Canada and later on succeeded Conservative leader Sir Allan Macnab as joint-premier of the Province of Canada, along with Étienne-Paschal Taché and then with George-Étienne Cartier.
- Macdonald also played a key role in the Confederation of British North America in 1867, bringing together four new provinces of Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, forming the new Dominion of Canada.
- He advocated a strong, highly centralized, unitary form of government.
- Applying his constitutional expertise, Macdonald led the drafting of a federal system of a centralized government.
- On July 1, 1867, Lord Monck, the first Governor-General of the Dominion, appointed Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada.
First-term Prime Minister
- In his first administration from 1867 to 1873, he was hailed as the “nation builder.”
- In this period Manitoba, the present-day Saskatchewan Alberta, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island joined the Confederation.
- The Intercolonial Railway between Québec City and Halifax went underway and plans were laid out to construct a transcontinental railway to the Pacific coast.
- Macdonald’s government granted provincial status, signed for a system of separate schools and the equality of the French and English languages.
- His administration was not without controversy as he was involved in the Pacific Scandal where he was alleged to have received large campaign contributions in the 1872 elections.
- Despite the dismissal of the accusations, Macdonald was forced to resign in late 1873 and was defeated in the subsequent election.
- But, following the business depression in Canada, new PM Alexander Mackenzie was labeled ineffectual.
Second-term Prime Minister
- Taking advantage of the ongoing political unrest, he advocated a policy of the “readjustment” of the tariff – this helped him return to power in 1878.
- The new tariff system protected Canadian manufacturing by imposing high tariffs on foreign imports, especially from the United States.
- The completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway was seen in November 1885, during his second administration.
- Macdonald did not expect that Canada could look forward to independence from Britain and expected an economical partnership with the mother country. Yet during his time, Canada moved closer to independence.
Legacy and Personal Life
- Macdonald was responsible for Indigenous policy: the development of the residential school system and the resulting famine of Indigenous populations in the West due to him capitalizing on prairies and taking lands for the railway system.
- Macdonald also tried to extend the federal vote to all Indigenous males, complied with the same conditions as other British subjects but passed legislation to exclude those of Chinese origin.
- Macdonald was married twice and had three children, two of whom died due to incurable illnesses.
- He served as the Canadian Prime Minister until his death on June 6, 1891.
John A. Macdonald Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Russell Wilson across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use John A. Macdonald worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about John A. Macdonald who was the first prime minister of Canada who served from 1867–1873 and 1878–1891.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- John A Macdonald Facts
- Canadian Territories
- Roles of a Prime Minister
- Pioneer Leaders
- Facing Challenges
- The Old Canada
- Words from Experience
- Canada’s Firsts
- Promote Canada
- Canadian Partnership
- News Feature
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